Inside the Passive Aggressive Person Struggling with Identity Issues

Inside the Passive Aggressive Person Struggling with Unhealthy Attachment (and/or Identity) Issues:

As a result of childhood wounds, many people have difficulty with attachment issues (bonding and separating). These difficulties manifest themselves in identity issues, as well. They have low self-esteem but cover it up with behaviors that appear arrogant.

Fear of Dependency:  From Scott Wetlzer, author of Living With The Passive Aggressive Man. “Unsure of his autonomy and afraid of being alone, he fights his dependency needs, usually by trying to control you. He wants you to think he doesn’t depend on you, but he binds himself closer than he cares to admit. Relationships can become battle grounds, where he can only claim victory if he denies his need for your support.”

Fear of Intimacy:  The passive aggressive often can’t trust. Because of this, they guard themselves against becoming intimately attached to someone. A passive aggressive will have sex with you but they rarely make love to you.

Fear of Failing: Because of the way their emotions can overwhelm their rational thinking, they are prone to destructive behaviors, emotional outbursts, making poor choices and having feelings of self-loathing, powerlessness and discontent at the state of their own affairs. They often feel a great deal of pain over their situation and are extremely afraid of failure, shame and abandonment.

Fear of Looking Internally:
Because of their identity issues, they have difficulty looking internally with respect to examining their role in a relationship problem. They have to externalize it and blame others for having shortcomings. They can’t accept themselves when they fail. They see mistakes as statements supporting their belief that they are somehow irreversibly flawed instead of seeing that their choice to behave a certain way was flawed. As a result of this toxic thinking, they live in denial of their mistakes and of their self-destructive behaviors, thus ignoring the consequences of those behaviors that cause others so much pain.

What Types of People They Look For in a Spouse: Faced with their fear of failure, it is common for such people to look for a person who is willing to share the burden, help clean up their mess and help them feel better about themselves. Spouses or other caring friends are prime candidates for this role – a role which they sometimes willingly accept, hoping to make a positive difference in their loved-one’s life. However, by accepting this role and “rescuing” then, their spouse may unwittingly create over-optimistic expectations for what they can accomplish. If this caring person (spouse) continues to rescue them, they will remain emotionally immature. They will not see the need to learn from their own mistakes, will become increasingly dependent on their spouse and will continue to have unrealistic expectations of their spouse. In such cases the spouse will become “objectified”. Their wife’s primary role will evolve into that of rescuing her husband from anything unpleasant and of feeding his emotional needs. The wife will cease to be seen as a person with feelings and individual needs but as an extension of her husband. The wife will be cared for the way someone cares for a favorite chair and will be of use as long as they provide comfort and pleasure.

What is Behind the Development of Passive-Aggressive Behavior: When their wife (or family member) inevitably fails to solve all the problems and fill all the voids, it is common for the husband to feel disappointment, disillusionment and even resentment towards her. The husband with attachment issues usually has difficulty expressing anger in a healthy way. Filled with anger towards those who have disappointed him, yet consumed by fear that he will be abandoned by those who have loved him the most, if he were outwardly hostile, the husband may develop a pattern of passive-aggressive behavior towards the wife. His feelings may be so repressed (because of living in denial for so long) that he doesn’t even realize he is angry or feeling resentment at his wife for not meeting his expectations. Due to his own lack of insight into his feelings, the passive aggressive often feels that others misunderstand him or, are holding him to unreasonable standards if he is confronted about his behavior.

Passive-aggressive behavior is a mechanism to express anger without openly admitting you are angry or confronting the source of your anger directly. It can manifest itself as learned helplessness, procrastination, stubbornness, resentment, sullenness, or deliberate/repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible. Passive–aggressive behavior as a personality trait, is passive, sometimes obstructionist resistance to following through with expectations in interpersonal situations. It is a personality trait marked by a pervasive pattern of negative attitudes and passive, usually disavowed resistance in interpersonal situations.

Hope for Change: The only hope for change in the way they deal with relationship issues is if they are able to acknowledge their shortcomings and contributions to the marital problems. Facing childhood wounds, looking internally instead of externally to find the cause of problems in their life will help them form deeper emotional attachments with a higher sense of emotional safety.

The DSM-IV Appendix B definition is as follows:

A pervasive pattern of negativistic attitudes and passive resistance to demands for adequate performance, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicted by four (or more) of the following:

    1. passively resists fulfilling routine social and occupational tasks

    2. complains of being misunderstood and unappreciated by others

    3. is sullen and argumentative

    4. unreasonably criticizes and scorns authority

    5. expresses envy and resentment toward those apparently more fortunate

    6. voices exaggerated and persistent complaints of personal misfortune

When asked to respond to the needs and desires of others in work and social situations, individuals with a passive-aggressive personality appear to comply or act appropriately, but actually behave negatively and passively resist.


“The passive-aggressive man may pretend to be sweet or compliant, but beneath his superficial demeanor lies a different core. He’s angry, petty, envious, and selfish.” (Living With the Passive-Aggressive Man,  by Scott Wetzler)

“Bullying is not limited to physical violence. It is a prolonged pattern of negative and repeated behaviors that overwhelm the target, degrading him or her to the point of powerlessness. It is an imbalance of power that, over time, wears down the victim.” (“In the Bully’s-eye” –

Whenever resentment and contempt lurk beneath the surface of a dysfunctional relationship, passive-aggressive behavior is the foam that rises to the top.

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